“Flourishing Palms” (Psalm 92)

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion
April 2, 2023

“Flourishing Palms” (Psalm 92)

At the start of today’s service, with palm branches in our hands, we sang, “All glory, laud, and honor to You, Redeemer, King.” Today we’re like the crowd that greeted Jesus on his way into Jerusalem: “They took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”

These palm branches befit the praises with which we hail our coming King. Today these palms are fresh and green, just as our worship today is strong and vigorous. But my question this morning is this: How do we keep these palms fresh and green? What’s to keep them from drying out and dying? These palm branches will not stay fresh and green for long, cut off from their source of vitality. Soon they will be dry and dead, and only good for burning into ashes. What’s to keep the same thing from happening to us, spiritually? How do we Christians keep on as “Flourishing Palms”?

Oh, there is an apparent flourishing, a phony flourishing, that the world knows. We read about it in Psalm 92: “The wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish.” This flourishing is that of the wicked, the evildoers. They oppose God and his ways; they reject his word and live for themselves. And these people may prosper. They may do quite well, in fact. A successful career, a nice home, all the trappings of the good life–except that it is life without God. The success of the wicked can seem very appealing to us. After all, the grass is always greener on the other side.

But looks can be deceiving. The psalmist says that the wicked “sprout like grass.” That’s a good comparison, because when the grass appears in Palestine in the spring, its growth is rather rapid. But when the hot weather comes, then the grass dries up and dies. So it is with the wicked. They may flourish for a while, but they will die in the end. “Though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever.” Drying and dying, doom and destruction–that would be our destiny apart from God’s grace. The green grass of our self-serving success dries up, and we die under the scorching sun of God’s judgment.

The judgment of God is a fearful, terrifying thing. Look what happened to Jesus. After his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, Jesus was in a very different type of procession on Friday. On Palm Sunday, he was led into Jerusalem with great honor and glory. On Friday, he is led out of town in disgrace and shame. On Sunday, there were palm branches to greet him. On Friday, there is a crown of thorns for him to wear. On Sunday, there was a large crowd shouting, “Hosanna!” On Friday, there are women wailing and weeping for him.

But as he is being led along the street known as Via Dolorosa, “The Way of Sorrows,” Jesus turns to these sorrowful women and says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Why? Because the time is coming when something much worse will happen to you. “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” In other words, if sinless, innocent Jesus is suffering like this, what will happen to wicked, guilty Jerusalem? If the green tree is getting it, what will happen to the dry wood?

Well, we know what happened to dried-up old Jerusalem. They continued to reject the gospel. They failed to heed Jesus’ warning, and thus they fell under God’s judgment. In the year 70, the Romans leveled the city.

The judgment of God is a fearful, terrifying thing. Thank God that Jesus took that judgment for us! That’s what we especially remember during this Holy Week of our Lord’s Passion: How Jesus went to the cross and died for us, to take the punishment that you and I deserve. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” For sinners like you and me, Jesus prays for forgiveness. For sinners like you and me, he promises paradise. For you, for me, this righteous man Jesus dies that we might live.

On the tree of the cross, Christ atoned for our sins and gives us his righteousness. Through faith in him, we are counted as righteous before God. Now what the psalmist said of the righteous applies to us: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree.” The palm tree knows a flourishing that the grass does not know. The grass springs up only to die under the hot summer sun. The palm tree continues to flourish all year round. So it is for those who are righteous in Christ. Not only will we survive, we will thrive. Throughout our lives, and even beyond this life, we will flourish forever.

The psalm goes on to say that the righteous “grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” The cedars of Lebanon were renowned for their beauty and their strength. In fact, these were the trees chosen for building the temple in Jerusalem. So when the psalmist says that the righteous will grow like a cedar of Lebanon, I think of two things. One, that the growth God gives us will be a thing of beauty and strength. And two, that this growth happens in the temple, that is, in the place where God gathers his people to live in fellowship with him. So it is that here, in the church, where God is dwelling with his people–this is where God is growing us into those strong and beautiful cedars of Lebanon.

“They are planted in the house of the LORD,” the psalmist says, “they flourish in the courts of our God.” Planted, we flourish. Planted here in the Lord’s house. That means not just visiting occasionally, when the mood strikes or it’s convenient. But planted. Taking up root and residence. I like what one commentator has said about this verse: “Those whose life is rooted in God’s sanctuary flourish in their nearness to God which is a reality in their lives.” Friend, is your life lacking fruit? Then examine your root. Dig your roots in deep here at God’s house. Nourished on Word and Sacrament, you will grow in your faith and your fruit. This is the place where God’s palm trees and cedars get their nourishment. And nourished, you will flourish.

“They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.” Whether you are young or old, God’s promise is true for you your whole life long. A living faith will bear its fruit in your life. You will continue to produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Alive in Christ, you will do the good works that come from faith. Like life-giving sap flowing into leaves to keep them fresh and green, so Christ’s life flows into our lives, keeping us spiritually healthy.

And as we flourish, we declare, “The LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” It is always the Lord who is our righteousness. We have no righteousness of our own, nothing to boast about. But the Lord is upright. He is the one we rely on. He supplies us with all that we need in order to flourish.

So back to these palms. Cut off from their source of life, they soon will be dry and dead. What will keep that from happening to us? The life of Christ, flowing into us through Word and Sacrament! Jesus Christ is the source of our life! He is the ever-green tree who gives you life and keeps you growing, even into old age. Connected to Christ, you will bear good fruit in your life. You will flourish like a palm tree, planted in the house of the Lord.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the LORD is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Published in: on April 1, 2023 at 4:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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